IMO approves safe crew change protocols at MSC 102

An important reference set of protocols to ensure safe ship crew changes and travel during the COVID-19 pandemic has been recognised by IMO’s technical body, the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC).

The Committee, meeting virtually for its 102nd session which ended this week approved an MSC circular recognising the industry-developed protocols, which set out general measures and procedures designed to ensure that ship crew changes and travel can take place safely during the pandemic.

Currently, hundreds of thousands of seafarers are stranded on board ships, having seen their contracts extended beyond the maximum duration of less than 12 months of service periods accepted under international treaties, and a similar number of seafarers are waiting to join ships.

The protocols also emphasise the need for Governments to designate seafarers as key workers, providing an essential service. The protocols (previously issued via circular letter) include practical steps for joining and leaving ships, including the need for compliance and strict adherence with COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements, and measures to prevent infection on board ships. They are a living document which will be updated in line with developments concerning the pandemic.

The move to issue the crew change protocols via an official IMO circular (MSC.1/Circ.1636) was one of a number of actions taken by the Committee to support efforts by UN agencies, the maritime industry and Governments to address the crew change crisis, a very serious humanitarian issue for seafarers which threatens the safety of navigation and world trade.

Up-to-date information on national focal points and on ports which facilitate crew changes will be made available on a new module in IMO’s Global Integrated Shipping Information System (GISIS), following the agreement of the Committee.

The MSC agreed that IMO, working with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), develop a universal non-text logo or symbol that enables seafarers to identify, and consequently access, dedicated resources and processes on ship, in port and in transit to/from ships. Such a logo will have a longer-term benefit by guiding seafarers to services which should ultimately support better safety outcomes.

MSC also agreed a unified interpretation related to delays in delivery of ships, during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Unified interpretation of SOLAS regulation II-1/3-10 concerns the term “unforeseen delay in delivery of ships”.

IMO issued Circular Letter No.4204/Add.1 on Implementation and enforcement of relevant IMO instruments in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which calls for understanding and close cooperation among all Member States to overcome the challenges related to the implementation and enforcement of IMO instruments.

The Committee also discussed a proposal to develop guidance on the implementation of remote surveys. The proposal recognises that the use of remote survey is expected to continue to increase in the years ahead, even after the pandemic ends. The Committee noted that developing such guidance would require detailed technical consideration by experts, which should also include matters related to cases of force majeure and invited member states and interested parties to submit proposals.

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